This Week: Chris sits down for an exclusive interview with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Gingrich: Romney 'most likely' will be Republican nominee; Sens. Conrad, Johnson talk budget battle
Written by Brit Hume / Published April 08, 2012 / Fox News Sunday
Special Guests: Newt Gingrich, Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. Ron Johnson
The following is a rush transcript of the April 8, 2012 edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRIT HUME, HOST: I'm Brit Hume, in for Chris Wallace. Newt Gingrich fights to keep his run for the White House alive.
We'll talk with the candidate about why he's staying in the race and what he hopes to accomplish at the GOP convention.
Newt Gingrich -- only on "Fox News Sunday."
And then the president and Mitt Romney begin the battle of the budget.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is thinly- veiled social Darwinism. It is antithetical to our entire history.
MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president came here yesterday and railed against arguments no one is making.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: We'll try to separate fact from fiction with the Democratic chairman of Senate Budget Committee, Kent Conrad, and a key Republican member, Senator Ron Johnson.
Plus, President Obama goes after the Supreme Court. We'll ask our Sunday panel if the president was right on the law and the politics.
And our power player of the week -- the daughter of a president tells who was the real political fighter in the family.
All right now on "Fox News Sunday."
HUME: Hello again. And happy Easter from Fox News in Washington.
And there is some news -- Pope Benedict celebrated Easter mass this morning in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. Tens of thousands of faithful attended the service where the Pope delivered his traditional Easter address.
And now, 2012 presidential politics. With the next primary is more than two weeks away, the candidates are reassessing where to go from here.
Joining us, Newt Gingrich.
Mr. Speaker, happy Easter. Welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."
NEWT GINGRICH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good to be with you.
HUME: Let's talk about you a little bit and where you see yourself going here. You seemed reconciled to the likelihood, if not the inevitability, of Mitt Romney as your party's nominee.
GINGRICH: Well, I think you have to be realistic, given the size of his organization, given the number of primaries he's won. He is far and away, the most likely Republican nominee. And if he does get to 1,144 delegates, I'll support him. I'll do everything I can this fall to help him defeat Obama.
The primary goal of the entire Republican Party has to be, to defeat Barack Obama. That makes this maybe the most important election of our lifetime.
HUME: Now, you have indicated that one of the reasons you are staying in the race is to influence the platform. What do you hope to do with the platform?
GINGRICH: I think platforms matter in the long run in the evolution of the party. And the party is more than just a presidential candidate. It's Senate candidates, House candidates, state legislators.
When I go around the country, the number of people who walk up to me and say, they use to listen to GOPAC tapes. Now the Senate minority leader --
GINGRICH: GOPAC was an organization I helped build.
GINGRICH: And we sent out training tapes. This was 25 years go.
And people walked up and say, you know, I'm now the Senate majority leader. I'm now the speaker of the House. You have this long term evolution --
HUME: In states?
GINGRICH: In states. You have this long term evolution of the party and we're not an Etch-a-Sketch party. It was an unfortunate comment by Romney's communications director. We are a broadly conservative party. We don't have to be severely conservative, as Romney said in CPAC.
We also need something else that is really hard to do in American politics. We need a new generation of breakthroughs. This country is in trouble. The industrial world is in trouble. You look at -- Spain has 21 percent or 22 percent unemployment. The Greeks may suffer a one-third decline of the standard of living. There are huge problems around the world.
HUME: What are the key elements you will see in this platform?
GINGRICH: One is an American independence energy policy, that really is aimed at making sure no future president never bows to a Saudi king and making sure that we bring several million jobs home by producing probably 4 million barrels a day more oil here at the United States.
Second would be a personal Social Security savings account. Back in 1993, the last time we tried to fix Social Security, if we had adoption a Chilean model, where people have a personal account, there would be $16 trillion in savings by today. That's how much the build up would have been just based on what's happening in Chile, which is not a theory. It's actually happening.
We need an approach trying to stand up very firmly for religious liberty. The assault on the Catholic Church is very real and it's not just the Catholic Church.
HUME: How do you phrase that? How do you express that in the platform?
GINGRICH: I think you have a platform that says flatly that the government should not force its values on any religious institution. I think that's a very key part of this.
I was at a Baptist school, not a Catholic school, Louisiana College, and the president said they are right to life institutions and the Obamacare is imposing, they will close the institution rather than violate their religious beliefs.
Now, you know, George Bush had issued an executive order that guaranteed right of conscience. Obama is doing just the opposite. He's imposing the government.
HUME: What else?
GINGRICH: I think we need to have -- I would like to see all of the revenue from this new expanded energy go into a debt repayment fund. I mean, if you look at the size of the federal deficit today and you figure --
HUME: So, you are saying that the royalties would flow from the opening up of --
GINGRICH: They'd be sequestered right in --
HUME: -- the federal land.
HUME: Now, where does that money now go?
GINGRICH: It goes into a general operating fund.
HUME: All right. So --
GINGRICH: So, you need to get to a balanced budget which Paul Ryan has started down the road towards. And you need to be able to --
HUME: Pay down the debt.
GINGRICH: Pay down the debt.
And this is -- so when you get to the general election this fall, you are talking about very large decisions.
HUME: Right. So, do you have any reason to believe that Mitt Romney, since he's the likely nominee, would resist you on any of those plans?
GINGRICH: I don't know.
GINGRICH: I think a lot he will adopt.
HUME: Now, you had a meeting with him recently.
GINGRICH: We haven't talked about specific details. But we've certainly talked in general. He is, as I said, he has said himself, he's describe himself as severely conservative in his CPAC speech. I think conservative is enough.
I suspect he will accept solid conservative platform but he does have consultants who are in the Etch-a-Sketch tradition, who would like to somehow go into the situation and not have anybody there. Look --
HUME: In fairness, Mr. Speaker, that Etch-a-Sketch comment was made in reference to the fact that you do a kind of an emphasis reset, not a -- you don't change your convictions going into the general. That's not what he was saying. I mean, that's unfair to describe him as a man who's going to rewrite his whole platform.
GINGRICH: First of all, Romney didn't say it.
HUME: I know he didn't. That's what I'm saying. The reference was to the idea that --
GINGRICH: So, Romney --
HUME: Every candidate makes a change in emphasis.
GINGRICH: Right. So, Romney is in a pretty good place to say to the party -- let's have a very solid and aggressive platform which he can campaign on, but which can also appeal to the (INAUDIBLE).
Take for example energy independence. That's like a 79 to 60 issue. I mean, there are very few Democrats who like us defending on Saudi Arabia, and almost no Republicans who like us depending on Saudi Arabia.
So, you can build an aggressive platform that also set the stage for a fall campaign. I mean, Reagan didn't exactly reset in the fall of 1980. He articulated a series of things that brought the country together in a pretty decisive victory.
HUME: So let's talk about what happened to you in this campaign and where you are now.
HUME: You've seemed -- while you were here in Washington and you had a platform here at Fox News and elsewhere, you're essentially -- you are sort of in a post-political phase of your career. Then you ran and you got back in the middle of things.
So, where do you go now? Where are you -- where -- what's the future for you?
HUME: Do you want -- would you like to serve in the new administration?
GINGRICH: No, I think -- I mean, if I'm not -- if I end up not being the nominee, I have already talked to Chairman Reince Priebus at the Republican National Committee. I'd want to work this fall to help defeat Obama any way I could, whatever the team thinks I can do to be helpful, I would do. And beyond, to use your phrase, I go back to a post political career.
I'm glad I did this. For me, it was important as a citizen to try to do some very hard things, to try to bring ideas and new approaches. It turned out to be much harder than I thought it would, but it was right thing for me to do at that both in my life and for where I though the country was. I have no regrets.
But it's clear that Governor Romney has done a very good of building a very substantial machine. And I think Santorum is discovering in Pennsylvania right now, it's a challenge.
HUME: Do you think -- for his own good, do you think Santorum should get out?
GINGRICH: No, I think he has to make that decision.
And let me say, I hope everybody watching will have that family in their prayers. Their daughter I think is back in the hospital in a difficult situation.
Now, what is the situation regarding money? You've gotten broke doing it.
GINGRICH: It's hard. No, we are not going to go broke. But --
HUME: -- personal funds.
GINGRICH: No, not -- well, a little bit. But not dramatically. But we'll probably --
HUME: Carl Cameron, our Carl Cameron, reported this that you were something like $4.5 million in debt. Is that a fact?
GINGRICH: I think slightly less than that. But we owe much more than we wanted to. Florida got to be a real brawl. And I think -- unfortunately, our guys tried to match Romney. It turned out we didn't have anything like his capacity to raise money.
HUME: And also tell me how you could pass that.
GINGRICH: Well, we didn't see -- I mean, Hillary came out of the 2008 campaign owing $25 million. I mean, you go out and you do fundraisers and you work things out with people and spend a fair amount for a couple of years raising money.
HUME: Well, this will severely constrain the extent of what you can campaign and do ads and travel and whatnot --
GINGRICH: No, no. Only in terms of the campaign.
GINGRICH: Yes. Oh, yes. In the campaign, we are operating on a shoestring and we're frankly, we have great response in Delaware, which is a state you can operate responsively. We have a great response in North Carolina. And we'll see what happens in those two upcoming primaries.
But it's really interesting, when you're out on the road, or even last night, I went to (INAUDIBLE) basilica and afterwards, people walked up. In Delaware this week, in North Carolina this week, people don't walk up and say, oh, please drop out. People walk up and say, I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you're talking about ideas. Please stay in. How can I help?
And so, I do think there is a desire for more idea-oriented Republican Party -- even if that doesn't translate to being able to take on Romney on issues (ph).
HUME: So, you're a man who at one point was leading on the polls.
HUME: You even suggested that you were on glide path of the nomination and it didn't work out. I want to ask a question about your faith.
HUME: How does your faith affect the way you dealt with the disappointment and the defeat that came your way?
GINGRICH: I'd say whether the glide path started to have to run into anti-aircraft called Romney --
HUME: There you go.
GINGRICH: One of the biggest things, (INAUDIBLE) and I did a movie of John Paul II called "Nine Days to Change the World," where we spent a lot of time studying the Pope, going back to Poland and studying his life under communism. And before that, his life on Nazism, where he lived under a death sentence if he was caught.
He doesn't say, "Have courage," he says, "Be not afraid." And I think, I'll get emotional, but on Easter Sunday, it's good to remember -- if you can shadow, and if you can hide beneath the cross, there is nothing to be afraid of.
This is a great campaign. We have great experiences. Some things work, some things don't work.
HUME: Now, would you -- would you describe your relationship right now with Mitt Romney? You guys have said some very harsh things about each other. You essentially accepted and argued the vulture capitalism case, although that was not your phrase.
HUME: But essentially you agreed with that. Pretty harsh stuff coming from a conservative about a businessman. He said some quite harsh things about you.
HUME: Are you men at peace with each other at this point?
GINGRICH: Sure. I think look, I hit him as hard as I could. He hit me hard as he could. It turned out he had more things to hit with than I did. And that's part of the business. He's done the fundraising side virtually.
We are both -- and I think Santorum would agree with this. We are absolutely committed to defeating Barack Obama. If Mitt Romney ends up as the Republican nominee, I will work as hard for him as I would for myself. And I think in all honestly, you could ask Mitt. But I think if I would have ended up Republican nominee he would worked as hard for me.
We really see, we're both grandparents, we really see this as a fight for future of our grandchildren's country. And we really see this as not just defeating Obama but change in Washington is really, really central to the future of this country. I mean, this is the most important election in some ways since 1860.
Barack Obama is a genuine radical. And if he gets reelected with this economy and these gas prices and this deficit, who knows what he'd do in the second term.
HUME: Well, he'd be constrained of by the Republicans who control at least one House and possibly two.
GINGRICH: Well, this is president who exploits every advantage of the presidency to minimize constraint. You know, when you have a secretary of defense who says we don't need Congress' approval to go to war as long as we have the U.N. --
GINGRICH: I mean, this is -- this is not an administration I would rely on the ability of Congress to constrain very well.
HUME: Mr. Speaker, it's nice to have you this Easter Sunday. Happy Easter to you and Mrs. Gingrich and your family.
We'll see how the campaign plays out in coming weeks. Up next, President Obama and Mitt Romney square off in the battle of the budget. Two key senators continue that debate after this quick break.
HUME: President Obama and Mitt Romney gave us a preview this week of the central issue in the fall campaign: what to do about the country's growing debt while also getting the economy going again.
Joining us now to continue the discussion and perhaps help separate the rhetoric from reality, your two leading senators, Democrat Kent Conrad is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; Republican Ron Johnson is a key member of that committee.
Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome and happy Easter.
SEN. KENT CONRAD, D-N.D.: Happy Easter to you.
SEN. RON JOHNSON, R-WIS.: Happy Easter to you.
HUME: Let me start with you, Senator Conrad. You had been over the years, one of the people who warned most vigorously about a coming debt crisis and the bulging national debt, chairman of the budget committee. We are approaching three years since a budget was passed and you are about to retire.
How do you feel about that?
CONRAD: I feel good about retiring, that's for sure. Let me just say this -- this notion that we have not had a budget three years is just wrong. Last year, we passed the Budget Control Act. And if you read the Budget Control Act, it makes it very clear that it stands in place of a budget resolution.
CONRAD: In many way, it is stronger than a budget resolution because a budget resolution --
HUME: But doesn't that law --
CONRAD: Let me just conclude --
HUME: But doesn't the law require that you enact a budget resolution?
CONRAD: What the Budget Control Act does is stand in place of a budget resolution. It has in its language what's called a deeming resolution and it says very clearly that the spending limits put in place by the Budget Control Act are the spending limits just as a budget resolution would provide them but it's stronger, because a budget resolution is purely a congressional document. It never goes to the president for signature.
The Budget Control Act is law and not only sets a limit for this year and next. It sets spending limits for 10 years.
HUME: Are you satisfied with that, Senator Johnson?
JOHNSON: No. I mean, the Budget Control Act is maybe a couple dozen numbers and the president's budget, which by the way lost -- his budget last year lost zero to 97 in the Senate and his current budget lost zero to 414 in the House.
The president's budget is about 2,500 pages long. It has all kinds of numbers. I mean, that's actually a real budget. It's not a serious budget. That's really what a budget is.
The Budget Control Act is -- just like I say -- about 24 numbers and it's simply not adequate at all.
HUME: So, Senator Conrad, you nonetheless are preparing now to try to bring a budget to the floor, right?
CONRAD: Look, it's very clear. The Budget Control Act does provide the spending limits for this year.
HUME: Gotcha, we got that.
CONRAD: Now, I want to make a point, because I hear over and over, there's been no budget for three years. The fact is there is. And the fact is what we don't have is a longer term plan. What we need, I believe, is at least a 10-year plan. That's why I'm going to mark up the first week that we're back in session.
And what we need to do is work out on a long-term plan that gets deficit and debt under control and it has a way of bringing us together, because if we don't get together, we can't accomplish anything.
HUME: Do you have any assurance that should you produce such a document from your committee, your majority leader, Senator Reid, would bring it to the floor?
CONRAD: That becomes a matter of timing. I think Senator Reid has made the judgment quite correctly that here is very little chance that we're going to get the two sides together before the election.
HUME: You said two sides. You mean House and Senate?
CONRAD: No. I mean Republicans and Democrats.
HUME: What about it, Senator Johnson?
JOHNSON: It's not a matter of timing. It's a matter of will. And the fact of the matter is, there are no plans. I mean, the president has put forward four budgets now. No plan to save Social Security --
HUME: Senator Johnson, they got a bill for these budgets.
HUME: We know it didn't succeed. I'm now talking about the Senate.
JOHNSON: Yes. So you got 23 Democratic Senate seats up. Sixteen of those Democratic senators are running for reelection. They don't want their fingerprints on a plan. That's why they didn't pass a budget the last two years. They don't want to pass a budget and actually commit to a plan that can be attacked --
JOHNSON: Look at what they do to the Ryan's budget.
HUME: Well, if he brings forth -- if he offers a budget in committee, and you're sitting there.
HUME: You are a member of the committee and you have other Republicans on the committee. Are you prepared to vote, to bring such a plan out to the floor?
JOHNSON: Absolutely, we're willing. We already had budget last year, but we have to force those votes.
I guess I'm wondering, will any Democratic senator actually bring Obama's budget to the floor?
HUME: It only takes 51 votes. You got plenty of Democrats, and more than 51, what's hard about you produce a budget and bring to the floor? What's hard about that?
CONRAD: That is not what is hard. What is hard is actually getting results. What is hard is producing a plan that both sides can support, because, look, we got --
HUME: The Senate, both sides, don't need to support --
CONRAD: You know, the last time I checked, no law gets enacted in just one house. You got to have both houses and the signature by the president.
HUME: -- House.
CONRAD: Right. So, how do you do that? How do you actually produce a plan that can get through both sides and be signed by the president?
HUME: It has to be signed by the president. The budget -- if you pass a budget and negotiate a compromise version with the House, that doesn't go to the president, correct?
CONRAD: The budget resolution does not. That's why the Budget Control Act that we passed is stronger than a budget resolution.
HUME: I get that. But you're intending to pass a budget anyway.
CONRAD: But remember, then it has to be implemented. That means appropriations bills have to be passed and the president has to sign it. So, look, anybody that --
HUME: This is regular order, though, isn't it? We are talking about regular order.
CONRAD: Yes. Regular is, first, you have a budget, and then you have appropriations bills. We have a budget, now we're going to have appropriations bills, the president is going to make judgments on those.
What we still lack, Brit -- and let's be we got to get serious about what is required. We got to have a long-term plan. The only way you're going to have a long term that's sustainable is that we get Democrats and Republicans to agree. I was part of the fiscal commission, Bowles-Simpson.
CONRAD: There are 11 of 18 of us agreed. Five Democrats, five Republicans, one independent and reduce the debt from what otherwise be by more than $4 trillion. That is what is required. And how does it get done. I don't think it's going to happen with the vote on the Senate floor before the election.
JOHNSON: Brit, what we need is leadership. And we are sorely lacking presidential leadership.
Remember, this is a president who promised he'd cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, hasn't exactly produced that. He's added $5 trillion of debt -- you know, indebting our children and our grandchildren. No (INAUDIBLE) whatsoever. No plan to save Social Security, no plan to save Medicare.
HUME: Well, I understand.
JOHNSON: We need leadership. So, we need presidential leadership, which is why -- which is why we need to change presidents.
HUME: I hear you. I get that point, Senator Johnson. But you don't need the president to do anything for the Senate --
HUME: -- to --
JOHNSON: You need Senate leadership. You need Senator Reid to support Senator Conrad in bringing a budget to the floor. Now, again, we're already late. I mean, we should have done this April 1st. We should pass a budget by April 15th. The House has already done so.
HUME: The House has passed a budget, the Ryan budget.
HUME: It's been harshly criticized by the president and many others. Would you be prepared to support that budget if it can vote in the Senate?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. I think most Republicans in the Senate would and we will probably try and force a vote on that, as we probably, of course, a vote --
HUME: It won't pass, or will it?
JOHNSON: Probably not. And that's a real shame because, again, we -- you have to take a look at the overall problem here. You know, 10 years ago, our federal government over the last 10 years spent $28 trillion.
The argument moving forward is the House budget would spend $40 trillion over the next 10 years. President Obama wants to spend $47 trillion. We are not cutting anything. We are just trying to limit the rate of growth in government.
HUME: What about that, Senator Conrad?
CONRAD: What about it is, you know --
HUME: It's been called a radical budget, and social Darwinism. It goes to $40 trillion instead of $47 trillion. That doesn't sound too radical.
CONRAD: You know what? That budget is deja vu is all over again.
Look, the last time these guys were in charge, the Bush administration, the Republicans control it all. They took us to the brink of financial collapse with their policies.
At the end of the Bush administration, the economy were shrinking at a rate of 9 percent. We were losing 800,000 private sector jobs a month. Now, the economy --
HUME: What does that have to do with the Ryan budget?
CONRAD: It has everything to do it, because he has the same set of policies contained in that budget that took us to the brink of financial collapse. Do you really want to repeat that? Do we really want to go back to the economy shrinking at a rate of 9 percent, losing 800,000 private sector jobs a month?
HUME: Your view is, that if spending over the years encompassed by that budget were to go to $40 trillion, instead of $47 trillion, it would plunge us into a deep recession?
CONRAD: No. I'm talking about the totalities of the policies contained in that budget. It goes right back to the Bush era policies that took this country to the brink of financial collapse, losing 800,000 private sector jobs a month.
HUME: Let's assume that you are able to get a budget resolution to the floor and pass it with as many votes as you can get. Do you think that you and Paul Ryan can sit down together in a conference committee with a group of your colleagues and hammer out a compromised budget that you can live with?
CONRAD: I don't know because Representative Ryan part of the Bowles-Simpson commission. He was one of the members who did not support the conclusion. That is the only bipartisan conclusion we have.
HUME: Well, the president didn't support that.
CONRAD: He actually put it in place. He did more than support. He put it in place.
JOHNSON: He totally ignored it. No leadership.
CONRAD: No, I don't think that's fair.
Look, you know, he asked for me my advice. I told him, look, if you embrace this totality of Bowles-Simpson, what will happen is Republicans in the House will not automatically be against it. So, you need to make the case for why it's necessary, but you need those in Congress to work it out.
And, look, I'll tell you -- Senator Johnson is a serious member and, by the way, we should wish him happy birthday.
HUME: Oh, happy birthday, Senator.
JOHNSON: Thank you. Happy Easter to all.
CONRAD: He is -- I'd say this -- he is a serious member of the budget committee.
CONRAD: I believe people of good faith working together -- I think it's going to be after the election -- are going to have an opportunity because all the tax cuts are about to expire. We'll be steering --
HUME: You think a lame duck session in this could have --
CONRAD: Either. Either them or in the first part of next year.
HUME: Senator Johnson?
CONRAD: I appreciate Senator Conrad's kind comments. Listen, I ran for the United States Senate not only to represent Wisconsin but small and medium size businesses that just feel they are under assault by this administration -- the assault in terms of regulatory overburdening, in terms of increasing tax rates from 35 percent to 44.8 percent under the Obamacare law. It is so dispiriting, so disheartening, which is why this upcoming election is so incredibly important, to put ourselves on a path not of a government-centered society, but one of an opportunity society lead by free people and free enterprise. I mean, that's extremely stark choice in the November election and that's really I think what's so important. The only way it gets done is with real leadership and President Obama has shown himself not to provide any leadership whatsoever.
HUME: Whatever failings you may believe the Ryan budget has, it does address the burgeoning growth of spending on health care, especially on Medicare.
JOHNSON: It also stabilizes the long term debt to GDP ratio and starts bringing it downwards, the most dangerous metric.
HUME: I understand.
Senator Conrad, that issue is going to have to be addressed. I suspect you would like, in some way, to address it now.
CONRAD: You know, again, I was part of Bowles-Simpson. I was part of Group of Six. And both those been usually had serious reforms to health care. For example --
HUME: Would a document you hope to produce in the Senate encompass that?
CONRAD: Part of it. Look, again, what's needed is a bipartisan agreement. And what we have --
HUME: -- a bipartisan agreement, you were to get it passed through both houses, right?
CONRAD: Exactly. That's really my point.
HUME: You say you don't know if it's possible. But --
CONRAD: I don't know if it's possible before the election. I think -- you know, you just had a vote on Bowles-Simpson on the House, only got 37 votes because I think that demonstrates both sides are unwilling to come together before the election. But after the election, when we're faced with all tax cuts expiring and we're faced with a sequester -- that would be the time that people have more open minds.
HUME: And just think of that, Senator, think of that, Senator, it's in the waning hours of your career in the Senate, anyway, you have a lame duck session, you get this done, and you ride out in a blaze of glory, right?
CONRAD: I'll tell you, nothing would please me more than to be a part of the solution. This is something I've devoted 26 years to. I believe deeply in the need to get our fiscal house in order. To get us back on track. I spent five years, hundreds and hundreds of hours in these bipartisan efforts and I believe we could be close, we could be close to getting a resolution.
HUME: Last word, quickly, Senator.
JOHNSON: See, Republicans are willing to work with people like Senator Conrad. But we need presidential leadership and we have none.
HUME: All right. Gentlemen, thank you for coming in and share part of your Easter with us. Glad to have you here.
JOHNSON: Thanks for having us.
HUME: Coming up: big issue in Congress on the campaign trail. Up next, the president and the Supreme Court. We'll ask our Sunday panel if the former constitutional law professor's comments went too far.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
OBAMA: I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: The president was talking about matters like this that involve the commerce clause, that involve Congress passing legislation to deal with issues of national economic importance.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HUME: President Obama you heard there, taking on the Supreme Court over its review of health care reform, and then White House spokesman Jay Carney being forced to walk back, at least in part, some of what the president said.
And it's time now for our Sunday group, Steve Hayes from The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, Byron York of the Washington Examiner and David Drucker of the Roll Call newspaper.
Welcome all. Happy Easter to everyone.
So Steve, this -- those remarks by the president reverberated through the whole week and are still pinging around. What about 'em?
STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: They did. I mean, I think there were three problems with them, the tone, the substance and the timing.
HUME: Other than that, they were great?
HAYES: Other than that, they were just fine.
I mean, the tone -- the president appeared strident, I think. He appeared angry. And that's never a good posture for the president to take, at least in terms of talking about the Supreme Court.
On -- on substance, he made several mistakes. It would not be unprecedented for the Supreme Court to overturn such a law. It wouldn't be extraordinary. And it didn't pass by a strong majority in a democratically elected Congress.
HUME: So Mara, what's the -- the White House seemed to be eager to stamp out the impression that the president didn't know what he was talking about on a constitutional matter and to try to get this thing behind -- behind the president. What was the political effect, in your judgment?
MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I think, first of all, I think what the White House was trying to correct was that the president spoke too broadly and he wasn't specific enough. It's not -- obviously, it's not unprecedented for the Supreme Court to overturn a law passed by Congress. The president certainly knows that.
But when it comes -- they wanted him to say, when it comes to economic activity under the commerce clause.
What I think the political message here is, is that the ground is being laid for what you might call a war on the court, that liberals and the president now will be making the kind of argument that conservatives used to make, if the Supreme Court doesn't return this, that you had 26 Republican attorney generals; you had five Republican- appointed Supreme Court justices overturning a law passed by Congress and this is conservative judicial activism.
I think that's what you're going to hear if the court does go ahead and overturn this.
BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: There was one more issue, which is the hypocrisy issue here. Because, at the same time the president was, sort of, condemning the court for thinking about knocking down a duly constituted law passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress, the president's lawyers from the Justice Department were in Boston in the 1st Circuit, asking that the court strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, which passed with 342 votes in the House and 85 in the Senate, a huge bipartisan majority.
And at the very same time the president was talking about unelected judges, not -- you know, should not have the discretion to strike down a law passed by Congress, his lawyers were asking a court to do that very same thing in Boston. DRUCKER: I'm not convinced, Brit, that the president and Democrats didn't say what they said and have been saying on purpose. I don't know that this was a mistake that they've now been walking back because it was a problem for them.
I think that, after the Supreme Court arguments, that they recognized that the court could rule against them. And that's why, during the week or arguments, you heard Democratic senators arguing that the individual mandate was hatched by Republicans and so, essentially, if this is unpopular, it wasn't our idea. And the president wants to have something to run on if the court overturns him.
HUME: The president also said in those remarks, listed among the reasons why the court should leave the Obamacare law in place, that it was important for the country and the people benefit and so forth. It is not appropriate, is it, for the Supreme Court to judge the constitutionality of a law based on whether it's good social policy or not?
DAVID DRUCKER, ROLL CALL: No, I don't think it is. And the question is, is it constitutional or is it not?
Although you heard in the oral arguments, remember, when Justice -- when the president nominated Sonia Sotomayor, there was much discussion about this empathy standard.
And you heard her, actually, in her questioning, raise some of these very same policy issues and talk about the people who were likely to not be covered if this law were to be invalidated.
So he's in a sense making in that statement comments that echo both questions from Sotomayor and things that he has said in the past about empathy standards.
HUME: Now, Mara, David suggests that whether the president was too broad in his assertion or not, that he's staking out this territory. You suggested something like that. Do you think this works politically?
LIASSON: That's a good question. When I first started asking people at the White House and other Democrats long ago, will you go to war on the court if they overturn it? That's one of your options. And the response then was no, because people do respect the Supreme Court as the final arbiter. You know, we didn't have riots in the streets when Bush v. Gore was decided -- in other words, that that's a very risky proposition.
But I do think that Democrats were taking aback by the kind of partisanship they heard in those oral arguments, the fact that Justice Scalia was talking about what could pass with 60 votes? That seemed to be something clearly the domain of Congress, not the court. They think that -- they see the Supreme Court as acting in a partisan manner. And I do think...
HUME: Partisan or ideological?
LIASSON: Ideological -- OK, let's call it ideological. And I do think, although it's risky, they're going to have an answer to the question of how could this constitutional law professor have signed a law that was unconstitutional. Either he's right or they're right.
HUME: That's an interesting question because...
LIASSON: And they're going to -- and they're going to have to have an answer to that, and I think that that's going to be...
HUME: ... the argument has been made, Byron, that the president can, kind of, win if the law is struck down. It takes it -- it's unpopular, and it takes it off the table as a issue and -- and makes it easier for the president. Do you buy that?
YORK: I don't think -- I don't buy it, and I don't think the president buys it, either. Because if the law is struck down in whole or in part, Republicans will say that, in 2009 and 2010, when the public was desperate for a president to concentrate on creating jobs and fixing the economy, the president instead spent all of his time passing this massive new, intrusive health care law, and it turned out to be unconstitutional.
That is a devastating critique of the president. Certainly Democrats don't want that.
DRUCKER: I think we should remember, too, this isn't the first time in American history we've seen a president go to bat against the Supreme Court and for some sort of political accommodation.
HUME: During -- while a case is pending?
DRUCKER: I'm not sure if during -- while a case is spending, but we know that FDR battled with the Supreme Court, and after his packing the court scheme failed, many people believed that the reason the courts ended up finding much of his agenda constitutional -- and a lot of it was thought to be radical at the time -- they thought it was because even the court wanted an accommodation with the president.
HUME: In other words, they didn't work the refs, in effect.
DRUCKER: Correct. And I think the president is doing that --
HUME: Working the reps?
DRUCKER: Yes. The decision is not necessarily made. I am sure there is debate going on inside the court, and he wants to send a message that if you strike the law down, there could be mayhem -- not mayhem in the streets, but that people could lose their health insurance and it would be bad. We know that the courts have acted before with social impact --
HUME: So your view is that he's operating on sort of politics on two levels. One is this is a line of attack that works for him politically within his own party and perhaps in the -- for the fall, and two, that it might get him a better decision.
DRUCKER: Correct. And I think Democrats want to see this out of him. His base wants it.
HAYES: But this is why the timing is problematic for the president. When he made his arguments in that statement, he said that the heavy -- there was a heavy burden on the court to demonstrate why they would overturn such a law.
That is the precise opposite of the argument that Anthony Kennedy made, when he was questioning so aggressively on oral arguments. He said the heavy burden is on people who would make people participate in the commerce.
HUME: Let's a quick round of guesses here. We -- none of us is a fortune teller, but - or a soothsayer, but do you think it'll be upheld -- ?
HAYES: I am not reading too much into oral arguments. I think it'll be upheld.
LIASSON: Well, it sounded like they were willing to strike it down, five of them.
YORK: Strike down the mandate and not the whole law.
DRUCKER: I'm with Byron. Strike down the mandate, send it back to Congress. Fix the rest of the law.
HUME: Panel, thank you, we got to take a break here.
When we come back, we'll preview the general election in dueling speeches this week. The panel on the Romney and Obama plans for the budget. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
OBAMA: He's very supportive of the new budget and he even called it "marvelous," which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing the budget.
ROMNEY: I understand some people are amused that I have so many ideas but I think the American people will prefer it to President Obama's grand total of zero.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
HUME: President Obama and Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney both going on the attack this week against the other's plans for the budget. Back now with the panel.
Byron, the president harshly attacked the Ryan budget which, broadly speaking, Mitt Romney has supported. You heard it here supported by Republican Ron Johnson from the Senate Budget Committee. That looks like a real line in the sand in this race. What about that and what about what the president specifically said about the Ryan budget?
YORK: Well, the first thing, it is an effort to completely redefine what the campaign is about, because from the very earliest planning of the Romney campaign, this 2008 campaign was about jobs. And the president wants to make it about something else. He wants to make it about Medicare.
He wants to make it about how Romney is a rich guy who doesn't care about people. He wants to make it about anything he can make it other than jobs. And so this is part of the president's effort to redefine race and tie Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan and the House Republicans.
Now, that's not hard to do, because in Wisconsin recently, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were walking around together all -- the whole time. So the question is what will happen with employment this summer. Will it tick back down at some point? And what will -- will the president be allowed to redefine the race?
DRUCKER: Well, I think what we saw is the campaign potentially framed for both candidates. Mitt Romney made a very strong moral defense for Republican conservative economic policies that you don't often see from Republicans because they are afraid of standing up for big business.
And he said that the success of business is tied to people's wages and whether or not the government has the money to care for the poor.
And what you saw from President Obama is something that could work for him and shouldn't be dismissed, which is that because you never know when bad luck is going to strike and he used those terms in his speech, the government is here to provide security for you to protect you.
And I think that these could be very interesting dueling visions in the sense that, in campaigns, we often see arguments about small things, but really this -- these are about starkly different visions.
HUME: Steve, what about this? If the Ryan budget -- the administration's not going to place the Ryan budget at the center of the campaign, and but there's reason -- that's reasonable to do. I mean, Romney is embracing it in broad terms as we talked about earlier. And the president has made a number of claims about the Ryan budget. Paul Ryan has denounced them as false. Is it good politics for the Republicans to be running, defending the Ryan budget or is that a loser?
HAYES: No, I think it is. I mean, I think -- there was a question. And this has been an internal debate among Republicans for quite some time. Is this going to be a stewardship election, something that focuses on the president's -- and his record on jobs or is it going to be about something bigger, about visions, about the future of the country?
And I think as Byron and David have pointed out, both campaigns seem to have settled on this debate being one about the big picture. And I think Republicans, look, embracing Paul Ryan's budget gives Republicans an opportunity to make it also about leadership and to say we have done this. We have taken political chances.
We've gotten very specific on a number of issues that the president has told us, starting in February 2009 would be at the center of the debate about the fiscal future of the country and he hasn't given us leadership on that.
LIASSON: Yes, I think that Romney's decision to embrace Paul Ryan in the way that he has is a really bold move, probably one of the boldest and surprisingly boldest things he's done. It helps him with his base. I think it helps him also repair his image as someone who is too cautious, doesn't really, you know, isn't willing to do something bold.
However, there is a lot of flaws on the Paul Ryan plan that are going to be exploited by Democrats. For instance, it slashes domestic spending by a huge amount because it won't mention one single tax expenditure or loophole that he is willing to close in order to keep tax reform --
HUME: -- that the Republicans and the Ways and Means Committee in the House will meet whatever Ryan's number is.
LIASSON: They need to tell -- yes, but if you are going to use it as a campaign platform, you need to say what it is--
LIASSON: -- you want to get rid of the mortgage interest -- yes, eventually if it is going to be enacted into law.
HUME: Well, even if it's going to be enacted --
LIASSON: Into -- yes, but they're going to have to lift that. And those things are things that Mitt Romney is going to have to defend. You want to get of the mortgage interest deductions. You want to get rid of charitable deductions, whatever it is that they come up with.
HUME: The biggest one, I think, is health care --
LIASSON: The exclusion for employer provided health deductions. Look, the president hasn't done enough on entitlement reform. And I do think the debt is something people care about.
On the other hand, Romney has left half of the page blank.
HUME: Byron, I have been covering this stuff for a long time. And campaigns against Republican plans, allegedly to cut entitlement programs, Social Security in particular, although that's not that big an issue this time around Medicare, Medicaid and the rest have always worked politically for the Democrats. Is this time different?
YORK: We have a word called Medi-Scare for a reason.
HUME: I understand.
YORK: And I think that the Republicans should be very cautious about this. Because...
HUME: If you're -- but if you're on record and -- and every Republican in the House basically is on supporting the Ryan budget and you're the presidential candidate Mitt Romney and you've done so, how are you going to get cautious from there?
YORK: They're there because -- but to sell this Ryan plan to the public, you have to convince people that Medicare is in dire, dire straits and that we are headed for disaster in the foreseeable future. Because what Mitt Romney is saying is that -- and Paul Ryan are saying, is that the president is going to ration your care. He is going to appoint this 15 member board in Washington and they're going to ration your care. Now the situation is so bad that something's gotta be done so we propose to let you ration yourself.
You're going to be able to pick your health care plans. But either way, people will say, I don't think I like these plans unless I am convinced that disaster is around the corner.
HUME: That this is an emergency in effect.
YORK: And you can't really do that without the presidential bully pulpit. So it's going to be very difficult for a Republican presidential candidate, even with Paul Ryan and the House leadership on his side, to make that sale.
HUME: So you think this is -- might - going to be a loser?
YORK: It's difficult.
DRUCKER: I think the case can be made. But I think Republicans need the grassroots and a lot of the organizations to in a sense take to the streets the way they did in opposing the president's health care plan. And the one thing that I think has been missing, as much as conservatives say that the president is not dealing with the budget and where are plans to address entitlement reforms, is it has not yet I think filtered down really to the grassroots who are willing to say that, for my children's Medicare, we need to make changes.
HAYES: But I think that -- we're in a different political environment now. People are much more aware of the debt and the magnitude of the problems that we have. And we've also seen an example. We saw it in Marco Rubio, in Florida where these issues are the most potent for Democrats, fight off these challenges by being honest, by being forthright about the nature of the problems and the challenges that the country faces. I think that's a good campaign to take to the country. And it's a good thing to have if Republican want a mandate if they happen to win.
HUME: Mara, do you think this ends up being a winner or a loser?
LIASSON: I think this guarantees that the debt is back on the table for the presidential campaign as an -- as an item for debate. It's not just jobs anymore. And as -- if the economy continues to improve, Romney is going to have to hammer on this. I think in the end, if the president's smart, it could be a loser for Republicans.
HUME: OK panel, thanks very much. Coming up next our power player of the week.
HUME: They are one of the most famous families of the Twentieth Century and yet there are still so many questions about who they really were. Now a member of that family is offering some special insights. Chris Wallace profiles our Power Player of the Week.
JULIE NIXON-EISENHOWER: There is this idea that perhaps she was very reserved or was in the political life because of duty and didn't like it. And that just isn't true.
WALLACE: Julie Nixon-Eisenhower is talking about her mom and some of the misconceptions people have about her.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: These are the actual dresses that she wore.
WALLACE: On this Centennial of her birth, the Nixon Library in California has put together an exhibit to tell Pat Nixon's remarkable story.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: My mother belonged to Trish and me but we always understood too that she belonged to the American people.
WALLACE: Part of that story is how she started out.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: This 18-year-old orphan in The Depression who decides the only thing that really matters is if I get an education. And she went from there. And she met Richard Nixon and her life is part of history.
WALLACE: Even Julie learned some things from the exhibit.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: I knew that she had been in some extras -- an extra in the movies. But I didn't know she had a dance scene. So I got to see that.
WALLACE: Dick and Pat Nixon never showed much affection in public. But the exhibit displays for the first time, their love letters to each other.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: My mother's going to burn him a hamburger and he's talking about Miss Vagabond, when I look into the stars and -- so you know you have these two people -- she was just very practical and down to earth. And he was the more romantic.
WALLACE: Some of the lasting images of Pat Nixon are sad ones of political defeats. But her daughter says the real woman was a fighter.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: Yes, she was battered by what happened. '60 was unfair. She felt the election was stolen. She hated pictures of that night. Because it was the first and only time she ever lost her self-control. And yes the resignation was devastating because she wanted my father to fight to the finish. Because in her eyes, he hadn't done anything wrong. So I agree with you that there are sad images of Pat Nixon, but when I remember her, she's always laughing.
NIXON: I have my (inaudible) of kin, I'll have you know. And I think pandemonium is going to break out right here at the zoo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Pat Nixon was an active First Lady. She visited more than 80 countries including China, which sent those two pandas to the U.S. And she is credited with doing more to fill the White House with American treasures than any First Lady except Dolly Madison. But in public, there was that sense of reserve. My father always said that the interview he most wanted...
NIXON-EISENHOWER: Oh, right.
WALLACE: ...that he never got.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: I read about that.
WALLACE: Was Pat Nixon.
WALLACE: Why did she never tell her story?
NIXON-EISENHOWER: I think sometimes you can go on the air and do your tell-all book. She wanted to talk about what other people were doing. She wasn't focused on herself.
WALLACE: As for Julie, she married David Eisenhower, grandson of the president in 1968. Forty four years later they have three children and a granddaughter. And she doesn't shrink from her place in history.
NIXON-EISENHOWER: If you want a lot of drama, you can -- you could rerun this Nixon story again and again and again.
WALLACE: And what does she think her famously private mother would have made of the celebration of her centennial?
NIXON-WALLACE: She would have said, "Oh don't bother." Just like she didn't even want to bother having a White House portrait. But sometimes the historians in the family have to take over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUME: The Nixon Library will celebrate the president's centennial starting next January. Julie notes her dad died just 10 months after her mom. She said she wasn't surprised because he was lost without her.
Now this program note, Chris' guests next week include David Axelrod, chief strategist for President Obama's campaign and Ed Gillespie, now a senior adviser to Mitt Romney. And that's it for today, I'm Brit Hume, happy Easter everyone.
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